GOPers back Democrat for Congress

DUBLIN, Calif. — Two lifelong Republicans who challenged incumbent Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) in the June 6 primary made a startling announcement July 26. Standing before a backdrop reading “Republicans for McNerney,” former Rep. Paul “Pete” McCloskey and former candidate Tom Benigno declared they are supporting Democratic nominee Jerry McNerney in the Nov. 7 election.

During the primary campaign in California’s 11th Congressional District, McCloskey said, he “concluded two things: Jerry McNerney is an honest man; Richard Pombo is not.” McCloskey expressed confidence that McNerney “will vote his conscience.”

Often called a “maverick” Republican, McCloskey represented the San Francisco peninsula area in Congress for 15 years from 1967-82. He co-founded Earth Day, helped write the Endangered Species Act, and opposed President Richard Nixon for the 1972 Republican nomination on an anti-Vietnam War platform.

The 11th CD extends from the Central Valley into the San Francisco Bay Area.

During the primary campaign, McCloskey sharply criticized Pombo’s close association with disgraced former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, as well as Pombo’s efforts to undo environmental regulations, including the Endangered Species Act.

Saying he has reluctantly concluded the Republican Party will remain corrupted by money and its desire to retain a majority in Congress, McCloskey announced he would work for a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. “And if they are corrupted by that power as the Republicans have been, we’ll turn them out, too,” he warned.

“I’m not campaigning for all Democrats,” McCloskey added, saying he backs Republican Congressman Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger because of their environmental policies.

Benigno called Pombo wrong for wanting to sell parklands, drill offshore and drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He added that the GOP is supposed to be about “ethics, honesty and responsibility” but “it’s not that — it’s changed.”

McCloskey drew nearly 32 percent of Republican votes in the primary, while Benigno tallied 5.7 percent.

A beaming Jerry McNerney thanked the two for their endorsements.

“Now we have a choice,” he told the audience. “Do we want more of Richard Pombo protecting Big Oil, or do you want to join me and start down a path that will lead to energy independence and clean air? Do we want to continue to send Pombo to Washington to cut shady deals that make him and his powerful friends richer, or do we want to restore honesty, integrity and accountability to Congress?”

McNerney said his priorities include improving the health care system, protecting Social Security and veterans’ benefits, working toward clean and affordable energy and fighting corruption in Washington. A nationally recognized wind power expert, McNerney said he envisions making the 11th CD “the Silicon Valley of new energy technology.”

Asked about Iraq, McNerney called the current situation “very impossible,” and pledged to work with Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) and others “to find a plan that makes sense, gives the Iraqis the best chance for a secure country, and allows our troops to withdraw from that occupation as soon as possible.”